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The Bullfrog Blues Club
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Bullfrog Blues Dockyard Club Southsea - February 5th

The first gig of 2015 and baptising the new elongated stage were a conventionally comprised, and extremely hirsute, power trio from Cork on the south coast of Ireland. Nothing conventional though about their innovative approach to arrangements and the often dark inspiration for their lyrics, drawn from the Emerald Isle's turbulent and troubled history.

Frontman Christy O'Hanlon, a reincarnated image of Bob 'The Bear' Hite, on lead guitar and cavernous resonant vocal, Stephen McGrath, bass. and Gev Barrett, drums and backing vocals, began slowly with a brace of riff laden slow burners, before paying the obligatory nod to their legendary countryman with a rocking version of 'Messin' With The Kid'.

It was their own material though that really impressed, with a New Orleans swampy 'Bijou Creole' following an amusing tale in Christy's lovely thick brogue about the perils of cat sitting in that city!

Another cover, 'Goin' Down' showcased the immense effortless power of his vocal accompanied by articulate and fluid guitar work. Not just raw power on display here, with a watertight engine room and plenty of subtlety and changes of tempo on material drawn from debut release 'Electric Soup' and the current 'Rumble Shake'. A hook laden 'Black Asphalt' with a tremendous deep vocal timbre and sustained tonal phrasing preceded 'Jesse Mae' (Hemphill), a tribute written by Ron Wylie Hubbard with whom they toured in the US, but now given their own stamp "like a pubic hair on fire through the gates of hell" as Christy so eloquently portrayed it to the amused throng.

The veteran Bluesman is still blissfully unaware of the rocked up live version with its John Lee Hooker riff and jangling screaming guitar. A wonderful fuzzy bass riff introduced 'Hang 'Em High' with big resonant chords mutating into a jerky and funky rhythm followed by an hypnotic riff with chiming guitar work.

Inventive, unpredictable but always melodic and holding the attention. A compulsive driving and catchy 'White Lightning' ended a fine first set. An resounding and anthemic 'Freedom'? preceded a tastefully executed twelve bar before a splendid 'Sit With Satan'. With a rough and ready exterior and few presentational skills, redolent of the great Rory Gallagher, what a monster track with slide guitar, and a thundering basso profundo vocal on a Gospel tinged number cursing the devil for the loss of a father.

The band have a primeval sophistication, feeding off a rich seam of inspiration including religious persecution and bigotry over the centuries, in an intellectual process that still enables the deep dirty, 'down with the devil' elemental and emotional forces to shine through, but not overwhelm to the detriment of the entertainment value to the audience. Emotive and cogent authentic Irish Blues, next in the shape of that current release's title track with its poetic lasciviousness about young lust.

All too soon, some soaring scintillating slide decorated the thunderous and gritty acapella of 'John The Revelator'. Rousing shouts for an encore were answered before our emcee had even reached stage front and a second encore of the perfectly apt 'Bullfrog Blues' sent us happy and back into the bitterly cold night with our cockles warmed by the infernal fires of damnation and a few beers!

I await the very approachable and personable band's third album and a return to the UK for a full tour with keen anticipation.

Bob Chaffey

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